Tokyo Games off to a quiet start with socially-distanced Opening Ceremony

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Tokyo Games off to a quiet start with socially-distanced Opening Ceremony

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony took place on Friday evening in a largely empty Tokyo Olympic Stadium. [YONHAP]

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony took place on Friday evening in a largely empty Tokyo Olympic Stadium. [YONHAP]

 
The finer moments of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony were punctuated not with roaring applause, but eerie silence piercing through scattered clapping.
 
No technical hitches marred the festivities — if it could be called that, considering the somber gravity of the several segments addressing the consequences of the global health pandemic.
 
Despite the overwhelming odds stacked against it, Tokyo did its best to start the Games with some fanfare, although the abundance of fireworks and uplifting orchestral music sandwiching those muted interludes could do little to alleviate the surreal atmosphere surrounding the whole event.
 
In happier times, the primary attraction of the parade of countries might have been the organizing committee's unorthodox choice to play soundtracks from iconic Japanese video games and style every nation's placards as manga-styled speech bubbles.
 
Due to Covid-19, however, taking note of each delegation's limited attendance and facial mask designs proved to be a more gripping visual exercise, and a constant reminder of this Olympics' grim backdrop.
 
Korean broadcasting station MBC chose to further highlight the held-amidst-a-pandemic aspect of the Games by displaying each nation's vaccination coverage percentage as their delegation entered.
 
The Korean delegation was thirty strong, with more than 90 percent of Korea's 355 athletes in Tokyo not participating due to Covid-19 concerns. Volleyball legend Kim Yeon-koung and wunderkind swimmer Hwang Sun-woo proudly led the group as flagbearers.
 
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach were present at the ceremony and parade, while Muhammad Yunus, recipient of the Olympic Laurel, was not.
 
In a pre-recorded acceptance speech, Yunus said "the IOC is taking the social dimension of the Games very seriously." The Japanese populace,  a number whom had opposed holding the Games during an ongoing health crisis, may be skeptical of the claim.
 
Journalists who covered the opening ceremony in person at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium shared that after the initial fireworks, few sounds apart from the clatter of reporters typing furiously on their laptops could be heard, and that the in-house music volume had to be cranked up to muffle the noise from the crowd outside of the arena protesting the Olympics.
 
How the bubble environment of this year's Games will affect competition is unclear. The lack of supporters, the constant temperature checks and Covid tests and restrictions on training and movement could impact athletes’ performance — although every country will face those challenges together.
 
This year’s Olympians face a greater challenge than perhaps any class of athletes before them. They won’t be free to focus solely on their sport, but will also be monitored and tracked at every turn as they follow social distancing measures with the whole world watching.
 
"What meaning is there in holding the Olympics when people's activities are being restricted and their daily lives have become difficult?" wrote the Asahi Shimbun in May, in a harshly worded editorial urging Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to call off the Games.
 
For better or worse, the Olympics ended up being held, and now have started for good. Asahi's question, however, will most likely hang over the event's duration — and considering the destructive economic impact that previous Olympics have brought to their host cities, probably even after it ends.

BY JEON YOUNG-JAE [jeon.youngjae@joongang.co.kr]
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